BookBrowse Reviews Not on Our Watch by Don Cheadle, John Prendergast

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Not on Our Watch

The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond

by Don Cheadle, John Prendergast

Not on Our Watch by Don Cheadle, John Prendergast X
Not on Our Watch by Don Cheadle, John Prendergast
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    May 2007, 192 pages

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"Remember silence helps the killer, never his victims." - Elie Wiesel

From the book jacket: While Don Cheadle was filming Hotel Rwanda, a new crisis had already erupted in Darfur, in nearby Sudan. In September 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell termed the atrocities being committed there "genocide" -- and yet two years later things have only gotten worse. 3.5 million Sudanese are going hungry, 2.5 million have been displaced by violence, and 400,000 have died in Darfur to date.

Both shocked and energized by this ongoing tragedy, Cheadle teamed up with leading activist John Prendergast to focus the world's attention. Not on Our Watch, their empowering book, offers six strategies readers themselves can implement: Raise Awareness, Raise Funds, Write a Letter, Call for Divestment, Start an Organization, and Lobby the Government. Each of these small actions can make a huge difference in the fate of a nation, and a people -- not only in Darfur, but in other crisis zones such as Somalia, Congo, and northern Uganda.

Comment: Not On Our Watch blends practical information on what people like you and me can do to help stop the genocide in Darfur, and other crisis zones. The authors lay out a simple six-step plan that any individual can follow and, lest individuals feel that their little voice won't make a difference to a conflict waging 6,000 or so miles away, the authors provide examples of how such seemingly small steps as writing a letter have changed the course of history in the past; and how small steps not taken failed to change events for the better.

"If every member of the House and Senate had received 100 letters from people back home saying we have to do something about Rwanda, when the crisis was first developing, then I think the response would have been different." - Senator Paul Simon, 1994.

Not On Our Watch is praised for offering practical, inspiring advice, although one reviewer feels that the history of the region is insufficiently clear and that the authors' personal anecdotes overshadow those of the Sudanese living through the crisis.

In this reader's opinion, Not On Our Watch's combination of practical information and instructions blended with memoir, history and tales of success from past activism should provide inspiration whether the reader is taking his or her first baby steps towards getting involved in any form of activism (or simply picked up the book because it's cowritten by a movie star), or is already convinced that the pen truly can be mightier than the sword and is looking for specifics on this particular conflict.


A Short History of Darfur

Located in the Northeast corner of Africa (map), about the size of Texas, the Darfur region of Sudan (map) is home to racially mixed tribes of settled peasants who identify as African, and nomadic herders who identify as Arab. The majority of people in both groups are Muslim.

In prehistoric times, the peoples of what is now Darfur were related to those of the Nile Valley. Except for an interval during the 19th century, the Keira Dynasty ruled Darfur from the 17th century until 1916. Gradually the Keira (who claimed Arab descent) merged with the Fur, the agricultural people native to the region (Dar Fur means "house of the Fur" in Arabic).

The slave trade was prominent in the Darfur Sultanate. Slaves were obtained by raiding or trading with the stateless societies to the south and southwest of Darfur and, over time, the Sultanate expanded its borders into neighboring regions.

In 1821, the Egyptians conquered some of Darfur's extended lands and began to compete in the slave trade with Darfur. In 1874 Turkish-Egyptian forces conquered Darfur, but about a decade later a Sudanese religious leader known as the Mahdi overthrew the Egyptian state. In 1898 British forces defeated the Mahdist State and placed it under Anglo-Egyptian administration, and restored the Darfur Sultanate. During WWI the Sultan played a significant role in an Islamic, anti-Western alliance; so, the Anglo-Egyptian government invaded, killed the Sultan and incorporated Darfur into Sudan. When Sudan attained independence in 1956, Darfur remained under Sudanese rule.

Central Darfur is inhabited mainly by Fur farmers, the northern areas by nomadic camel herders, and the eastern and southern zones by Arab cattle herders. Repeated periods of droughts since the 1960s have forced the cattle and camel herders to encroach on the rich agricultural land in the central section of Darfur. As competition for access to water and pasture intensified, small-scale raids turned into persistent battles among the different groups. Attempts by successive governments to achieve peace in the region have failed and the fighting continues.

In February 2003, two rebel groups -- the Sudan Liberation Army Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement (with members drawn from the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups) -- demanded that the Arab-ruled Sudanese government begin to share power and end the economic marginalization of Darfur. The government responded by targeting the civilian populations from which the rebels were drawn with a scorched-earth campaign, enlisting the help of the Janjaweed (government-sponsored Arab militia made up of nomadic tribesmen) against the civilians of Darfur.

Since February 2003, the Sudanese government in Khartoum and the Janjaweed have used rape, displacement, organized starvation and mass murder to kill more than 400,000 (the United Nations estimates 200,000) and displace 2.5 million. Violence, disease and displacement continue to kill thousands of innocent Darfurians every month.

Long-term peace in Darfur requires that the government of Sudan, the Janjaweed militia forces and the rebel groups of Darfur find a way to resolve their political and economic disputes. The international community managed to broker a peace deal in May 2006, but violence in Darfur actually increased in the wake of this deal.

A United Nations resolution in August 2006 authorized the deployment of a force of over 17,000 UN troops to Darfur. However, the UN has insisted on securing the "consent" of the Sudanese government for such a force. For its part, the government of Sudan recently launched another attack in Darfur, in violation of the May peace agreement, and continues to adamantly refuse the deployment of an effective force.

Source: Genocide Intervention.net & The Coalition for Darfur.

Useful link:
The Darfur score card: Find out what your legislators have done to end the genocide in Darfur.

This review first ran in the May 24, 2007 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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